Even before mosquito season officially arrives in Arkansas, the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, is spreading rapidly from South and Central American countries, Caribbean Islands and Mexico. There is concern that it could migrate into the United States.
How it’s spread
Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites. It cannot be spread through the air. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or at birth. During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
You are at risk if you live in or travel to a Zika-virus infected area and have not already been infected with the virus. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are especially vulnerable to the infection.
Pregnant women should take immediate precautions to avoid mosquito bites. The most recent outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil in May 2015 led to reports of pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
Zika is currently being actively transmitted in the northern half of South America, Caribbean Islands, Central America and Mexico. New cases were reported this week in Cape Verde, Samoa and Tongo. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel alert for people planning to be in these areas. Late last week they added the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Curacao to the travel alert.
Active transmission means the mosquitoes in the area have been infected with Zika virus and are spreading it to people. The one confirmed case of Zika virus in Arkansas was a person who had traveled out of the country. That case would not be considered an active transmission risk for Arkansas residents at this time.
There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika. To avoid being bitten, follow these tips from the CDC:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with window and door screens. If screens are not available or you are sleeping outside, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Only use insect repellents that are EPA-registered. They have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
- Do not use repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age. Spray the repellent on your hands and then apply to a child’s face. Do not apply to cut or irritated skin.
- Reapply repellent every few hours. Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
- If you’re also using sunscreen, apply it first, then apply repellent.
- If traveling with a child, cover the crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika bite mostly during the daytime. They are also the mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
- Eliminate any standing water from containers such as flowerpots, buckets or animal dishes to reduce mosquitoes’ breeding areas.
- Avoid intimate sexual contact, or use a condom, with an infected person or anyone who has recently traveled to the affected areas under the CDC’s travel alert.
The CDC recommends special precautions for women who are pregnant (any trimester) and women who are trying to become pregnant. They should postpone travel to any area where there’s active transmission of Zika virus. They should also strictly follow the steps to prevent mosquito bites.
Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health site for the most updated information here before you travel.
Symptoms and treatment
Only about 20 percent of people infected with Zika will get sick and have symptoms. Many people never know they’ve been infected. See your health care provider if you develop these common symptoms of Zika virus:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Red, itchy eyes (conjunctivitis)
Symptoms are usually mild and last for a few days to a week. Severe cases or death are rare. Symptoms begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
To treat the symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
- To reduce fever and pain, take acetaminophen
- Do not take aspirin or other NSAIDS such as ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve, Motrin or Advil)
Future outbreaks unlikely
At this time, the CDC does not expect widespread transmission of Zika in the mainland U.S. The mainland U.S. does have the species of mosquito that can become infected with Zika. The number of Zika-virus disease cases among travelers visiting or returning to the U.S. will likely increase during 2016. This may result in the local spread of the virus. The CDC is providing state health laboratories with diagnostic tests needed to confirm Zika virus locally.
Zika is not a new virus. Outbreaks have been reported previously in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands since the 1940s. Scientists are still learning about Zika virus transmission and long-term effects on humans. There are several other viruses that can be transmitted via mosquitoes such as West Nile virus or Dengue fever. Preventing mosquito bites is the best and only prevention against these viruses.
Countries where there have been outbreaks of Zika in the past have reported an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) cases occurring at the same time. CDC scientists are currently studying that relationship in Brazil. There are also confirmed reports of transmission through blood transfusion and sexual contact.